How to Nixtamal Maiz

 in Kitchen


Corn and corn fields, what a complicated relationship mid-westerners feel each summer as they watch the rows and rows of corn grow up. Knee high by the 4th of july has now turned into over your head as the fields accelerate through their growth cycle to produce feed corn.

When I was young they still planted sweet corn in the fields closest to the road, but industrialization pushed forward and even that is in the past. We still look forward to corn mazes, but the rest of the year corn leaves a stale taste in the mouth of most the midwest.

Imagine my culture shock when I moved.  In mexico corn is king, a highly prized staple on the table. Some cultures believe the first humans were made of corn and every part of mexico uses corn in it’s cuisine. Industrialization has touched even this ancestral crop,  they revere corn throughout Mexican culture, but it has changed here too and most tortillas are flattened out of a machine from corn powder instead of the traditional slow nixtamal.

Nixtamal is a process developed by the aztecs to make corn more nutritious and easier to work with and digest. Nixtamalization is cooking the dry maiz kernel with calcium hydroxide, usually known as cal or lime. The result is not only more nutritious corn, but a light and fluffy kernel. It is used for posole (homily) or ground into masa dough for tortillas and other dishes.

Still even though corn is a staple food in the Mexican diet, few people still grow it and even fewer mill it by hand. This year we set out to do just that with our second year growing and harvesting MILPA. While it undoubtedly takes more time, the end result is like no masa we have ever touched. It is light and springy, and stays fluffy even after cooked. The tortillas come out flexible and full of flavor.

We don’t have a huge crop, but having even just a kilo or two of this sort of masa is worth all the hard work.

Most people do 1 kg of kernel at a time, but in our small kitchen with small garden yields I have adapted the recipe to nixtamal 250 g of dry corn at a time. You can expect your dry to double for around 500g of finished masa.

How to Nixtamal


250 g dry maiz kernels
1 T cal
1 L water

Remove the maiz kernels from the cob and weigh 250 g of kernels.
Stir the cal into the water and bring to just before boil, the water with cal will look grey don’t worry that is correct.
Just before the water boils, add the maiz and stir.
Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and leave covered.

Leave the pot to cool overnight.

In the morning pour off the nixtamal water and rinse the now hydrated kernels well with clean water.
You now have posole (homily) you can use it in recipes as is or you are ready to grind your corn.

Using a hand mill, add the nixtamalized corn to the top and start to grind.
Once you have ground all the maiz, knead it together a few times to form a light and springy dough.
Usually no water is needed, but a splash or two can sometimes be helpful.

Use the masa as you would for other recipes.

To Make Tortillas


With dough that has been well massaged roll a golf ball sized piece of masa in the palm of your hand. Use a tortilla press to flatten.

On a very well heated through cast iron, lay down the tortilla.
Be very careful to lay the tortilla nice and flat, you will not be able to move it at this stage.
Leave for 3 minutes or until it starts looking dry on the edges.
Flip and heat the second side 2-3 minutes until turning color and the tortilla is flexible.

Place on a plate in between a clean kitchen towel to stay warm while you cook the rest of the tortillas.
Only make as many tortillas as you are going to eat, they are always best cooked fresh and don’t store well.

Oyster Mushroom Tacos


2 handfuls of oyster mushrooms
¼ an onion
1-2 T soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
A pinky finger tip of ginger, very finely minced
A handful of chopped basil, roughly chopped

Thinly slice the onion and oyster mushrooms into pinky finger long pieces.
Heat a cast iron skillet until very hot.
Sear the mushrooms, onions, ginger and garlic in a pan until changing color but not burning.
Deglaze with the soy sauce until all is covered.
Turn of heat and toss in the basil, stir until just combined. 

Serve over tortilla with lime and toasted habanero salsa.

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